Tampa Bay Rays: Example No. 21,348 That Joe Maddon Is the Smartest MLB Manager

Steven Goldman@GoStevenGoldmanMLB Lead BloggerApril 3, 2012

Joe Maddon demonstrates the walk of managerial intelligence.
Joe Maddon demonstrates the walk of managerial intelligence.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Sayeth Bill Chastain of MLB.com:

"Joe Maddon has never been one to adhere to conventional wisdom for the sake of adhering to conventional wisdom, which leads to the topic of the Rays' No. 2 spot in the batting order.

"Right now there is a good chance that either Luke Scott or Carlos Pena will fill the second spot in the batting order. Using either of the sluggers in the second spot runs counter to conventional wisdom, a fact that doesn't rattle the Rays' manager in the least.

"'I just think [conventional wisdom is] all based on the perception that a No. 2 hitter has to be a guy who can bunt, hit-and-run and move the runners,' Maddon said. 'It doesn't happen anymore. That's not part of the game right now.'"

Darned straight, Joe. But this isn’t anything new.

As Maddon himself pointed out, Jim Edmonds started more than 300 games batting second and did very well there, hitting .281/.363/.536 with 81 home runs.

Think about it: Forget the whole single, hit and run/stolen base, double thing—just get two runs straight away with the ol' leadoff walk and home run. It's not quite Earl Weaver, but in the first inning, it will do.

More to the point, the batting order is just a way of distributing playing time. The leadoff hitter will come to bat more often than any other player on the team, the No. 2 hitter a little less than the leadoff guy, the No. 3 hitter less than both and so on. With a slugger at or toward the top of the order, you simply give him more opportunities to do what he does best.

Managers have known this for a long time, but the old received wisdom dies hard, and each generation must discover anew that it makes more sense to give Mickey Mantle more chances to hit than it does, say, Scott Podsednik.

Consider this Red Sox batting order from my youth. Ralph Houk, not a brilliant manager despite a couple of World Series titles with teams other people built, used it 66 times in 1984:

  1. Wade Boggs, 3B
  2. Dwight Evans, RF
  3. Jim Rice, LF
  4. Tony Armas, CF
  5. Mike Easler, DH
  6. Bill Buckner, 1B
  7. Rich Gedman, C
  8. Marty Barrett, 2B
  9. Jackie Guitierrez, SS

Two facts for those too young to remember these guys:

Boggs was a leadoff man who stole about two bases a season, both probably on busted hit-and-runs, yet he annually scored 100 runs.

Evans was not your prototypical No. 2 "bat-handler," but was a slugger who walked as many as 114 times in a season and hit up to 34 home runs a year. That season, he hit .295/.388/.532 and, with all those power hitters coming up behind him, scored a league-leading 121 runs, while Boggs scored a mere 109.

Here's another favorite from the next season, this time a New York Yankees-Billy Martin production. This one was used on Aug. 11, 1985 at Boston:

  1. Rickey Henderson, CF
  2. Don Mattingly, 1B
  3. Dave Winfield, RF
  4. Ken Griffey, LF
  5. Don Baylor, DH
  6. Willie Randolph, 2B
  7. Butch Wynegar, C
  8. Mike Pagliarulo, 3B
  9. Bobby Meacham, SS

Normally, you would think of the patient, singles-hitting Randolph—who was also a good baserunner—behind Henderson, and the Yankees did quite a bit of that as well. But in this case, Mattingly's contact-hitting abilities and power, combined with Henderson's speed, meant that any time the latter reached, the worst-case scenario was that he would be on third base with one out for Winfield.

Mantle batted second sometimes. Willie Mays did as well. And if you're impressed by Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera batting back-to-back, consider this San Francisco Giants lineup from August of 1959:

  1. Jim Davenport, 3B
  2. Willie Mays, CF
  3. Willie McCovey, 1B
  4. Orlando Cepeda, LF
  5. Willie Kirkland, RF
  6. Darryl Spencer, 2B
  7. Hobie Landrith, C
  8. Eddie Bressoud, SS
  9. Jack Sanford, P

Davenport really had no business being a leadoff hitter, but check out Nos. 2-4: three straight future Hall of Famers, with 600 home runs followed by 500 home runs followed by almost 400 home runs, followed by Kirland, who slugged .475 that year. Mays had an off-year in 1959; he hit only .313/.381/.583 with 34 home runs. No wonder manager Bill Rigney felt like he had to hide him in the two-hole.

The real point here is a simple bit of common sense, one that goes hand-in-hand with the plate appearance/distribution concept of batting order construction: The Rays just don't have a lot of hitting.

Many managers might stick Jeff Keppinger or Sean Rodriguez up there, simply for lack of anything better to do with them. Rather than burying them at the bottom of the order, where they would receive the fewest at-bats, they would get what amounts to a promotion.

Maddon is smarter than that. He will give his best hitters the most chances to do damage. It's an elementary bit of thinking, but it eludes 9.9 or 10 skippers working today.

Just ask Dusty Baker.


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